Just because the tech is old, doesn’t mean it is worthless, right?

So, it’s happened again. One more piece of technology I purchased is relegated to the dust bin. My HTC EVO Shift 4G is not only NOT listed on HTC’s current lineup for Sprint, they no longer support it! It is just at a year old (the phone, not my personal phone that is) and will not be getting the Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade to Android.  Worse, Sprint seems to be deprecating the phone as well. But, at least they will give me $68 (US) on the buy back program (compare that to the $18 for my wife’s Blackberry flip phone.)

So, once again, I find myself looking around at the technology that I have.  My Kindle Fire is the most current piece of tech in the house. EVERYTHING else, mine or a family member’s, is either no longer made, been replaced with a newer model or just plain old. BUT…just because something is old does not mean it does not have any useful life left in it.

For example, our original iPad is used everyday. I use it when I am home, my wife uses and my four year old step son uses (he probably uses it more than any of uPandigitals.)  The white 7 inch Pandigital tablet has been rejuvenated now that I got it’s Android update corrected. I found that using it in conjunction with a stylus from a Nintendo DS makes the abysmal touch screen actually work.  I installed the Go EX Launcher and an Ice Cream Sandwich theme to make it look fresh and put a 2gb SD card to store apps.  It is almost like new. Almost.

My old Palm Pre serves as a backup mini-tablet. It is no longer used as a phone, but it still works and the Wi-Fi functionality is better than the HTC.  Facebook and Twitter work fine and I have Boggle, Tetris and a couple of other games as well. Oh, Shrek Racing on the Pre works great and allows us to play two player – Pre and iPad. Works great.  Glad I did not rip it apart like I was going to do.

An old AMD Athlon based (single core, 1.8ghz) PC that was my son’s computer (with Vista shoehorned in) is still chugging along as a backup computer (currently on loan to my sister while I revive her much better computer).  It may be old and have outdated technology, but it got my sis back on the interwebs.

54647704My ZuneHD still works great, it is used everyday as my podcast player. I can also load it up with movies and, along with the dock, use it as a video player.  Throw it in a bag and take it with you on vacation.  No need for a pile of DVD’s.

My original Kindle (the funky wedge shaped one) still works and gets use. When we have no power, it doubles as an internet device since the browser will work on many sites (the ones I would need in such a situation anyway) and it just sips the juice.

That old Zenith CRT television is now the display for a slew of old video games.  An Intellivision, Odyssey II, NES/SNES combo thingy and two Atari Plug and Play consoles in addition to a raft of plug and play games that were popular a couple of years ago. And, since I have a VCR or two AND an old Laserdisc player, this set is still useful. Couple it with the government purchased digital converter I got in 2009, we can still watch local TV on it.  And, at 27 inches, you can see it too.

I have quite a bit more tech that is no longer in the desirable column, but it is mostly unused. Unused because the functionality is reduced to a point where it is useless, broken, rendered useless by a service (PEEK, I’m looking you) or just plain too slow to be useful (like the 1995 era Toshiba Laptop I have. It works great, but lacks an optical drive, the screen is terrible and it is SLOW. It does boot faster than anything in the house, though.  That’s some100_0862thing, right?

I hate throwing things away. Likewise, I hate looking at gear that used to be the hot thing but no longer is and is probably not worth anything.  Like the TWO Peek devices I have. They look great, the industrial design was fantastic and the screen was nice. Peek, however, is no longer around as a service (I canned it long ago anyway) but the devices, supposedly, can be hacked into little Linux handhelds.  Not sure what one would do with a hacked Peek, but it might be fun to play with. One day.

Yes, one day I will play around with some of this stuff. Like the Peek or the ZipIt 2. Yeah, ONE DAY.

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They did what? Thank Hedy, Bing, Lucy and Arthur for our techie life

A recent Facebook from someone in the Windows group got me thinking about contributions by people whom you would not otherwise associate the contribution.  This particular post was about Hedy Lamarr and the Spread Spectrum method that is the basis of most modern communication systems.

Hedy LamarrYep, Hedy Lamarr, the gorgeous and glamorous star from Hollywood’s earlier days is one of two people responsible for the foundation of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cell phones.  How’s that?  Turns out, Lamar was a mathematical whiz.  Taking an idea from her neighbor that involved multiple player pianos playing at the same time.  Lamar and the neighbor, George Antheil, patented the idea in 1942.  The idea was also submitted to the Navy as a means of protecting radio guided missiles (using piano rolls to switch 88 frequencies on the fly) but was ultimately rejected.  The idea was put into use in the 1960’s during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Of course, the idea is in wide use today and is taken for granted, but in 1941, when the patent was submitted, it was ahead of its time and was due, in part, to an amazing actress named Hedy Lamarr.Patent drawing

Bing Crosby also lent his hand, or funding, rather, to technology. During the 1940’s and through most of the 1950’s, many television programs, especially variety shows, were broadcast live.  When coast to coast live programming became a reality, this meant that those news and variety shows had to be done twice: once for the east and once for the west.  Bing Crosby, tiring of this practice for his show, commissioned his laboratory to come up with a better way.  Kinescope recording was the standard method at the time for recording shows. This process involved placing a movie camera in front of a video monitor and filming it.  The result, while viewable, was less than ideal as it meant a muddy picture, film that had to be processed and edited and cost.  Bing’s labs, in conjunction with Ampex Corporation, developed the first practical magnetic video recorder, a direct descendant of today’s (or yesterday’s) VCR.

Lucille Ball also left her mark on pop culture and, indirectly, on technologies in use today. How’s that? Well, America’s favorite redhead was owner of DesiLu Studios.  So what? Well, DesiLu is the original studio that produced Star Trek and, as head of said studio, Lucy gave the final word on productions.  She reportedly liked Gene Roddenberry and loved the Star Trek premise. When the original pilot was rejected, she stood firm behind the show and it, ultimately was sold to NBC.  While Lucy unloaded the studio in 1967 to Gulf + Western, she had left her mark and didn’t realize it.  Many astronomers, inventors, scientists and a few business people have said that it was Star Trek that influenced them and many of those people have gone on to be responsible for many aspects of our lives. Perhaps the most public of those influences is NASA. Not only was a space shuttle named after the iconic starship, but Lt. Uhura herself worked at NASA for several years.  A person you may not have heard of, but has certainly left his mark on technology is Rob Haitaini, a designer for Palm. He is the person who designed the UI for the Palm OS. He has credited Star Trek as the inspiration for his work. Arguable, Palm set the standard for small, touch oriented devices such as those seen in the Star Trek the Next Generation program, which, again, would never have been made if it were not for Lucy. The original show also portrays many devices we take for granted: Bluetooth earpieces like the one used by Uhura, ultra portable communications in the form of cell phones (the communicator, which also suffered similar problems that we have with the phones), portable computing and others.  While Lucy’s motivation may have been profit, that she stuck with the show as long as she could says a lot about her. Lucy, we still love you.

Arthur C. Clarke, well known science fiction author, is responsible for pretty much our modern means of entertainment and communication…sort of. In 1945, Clarke proposed the notion of extra-terrestrial relay stations.  His idea was to use such stations to relay radio signals around the globe. These stations would be in a geo-synchronous orbit so they appear to be in a fixed point overhead.  That orbit is roughly 22,500 miles above the earth.  Though this idea was put forth in a slightly different manner some twenty years earlier by a German named Herman Oberth.  Clarke acknowledged this in a later work.  Regardless, Clarke is widely acknowledged as the ‘father of the satellite’ and, as such, is indirectly responsible for the delivery mechanism for the way in which 99% of our phone calls, television, internet and even astronomical observations are handled.

So, you have two actresses, a crooner and a science fiction author who, collectively, had a tremendous influence on our lives.   Kudos to them and kudos to the thousands who actually made all of this stuff just work.

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No Peeking in my future

So, after upgrading my Peek Classic to the new Peek 9 software, I was left with an unstable and nearly useless device. When the plug was pulled, I did take them up on the one dollar device offer. Well, my new Peek 9 finally arrived. So, how is it?
Well, I wish I could tell you. See, I have a device that, while it is SUPPOSED to work out of the box, it does not. I have emailed them about the problem, even asking how to cancel and, surprise, I have yet get any kind of response. A generic message came from them stating a few ‘common’ things, but since my device is not connecting, none it helps.
I have tried to give them the benefit of the doubt here, but, enough is enough. The device is nearly pointless unless you do not have a cell phone. Ten bucks (or twenty, depending on the plan) a month is a bit much for such a hobbled device.
I guess you can add another win to the technology column in the tech versus George battle. Sigh.

My battle with technology

I have been on the losing end of a week long argument with technology. Indeed, between my cell phone (a Palm Pre), my computer (an HP), my laptop (also HP), my XBOX 360 and a Buffalo Wireless router, technology seems to have forsaken me.
It all started when I went out on Saturday. My cell phone’s battery seemed to drain very quickly and would not charge. No problem, I thought. I will stop by the Sprint store-where I bought the bloody thing-and just buy a fresh, new battery. WRONG. Of course the Sprint store does not carry batteries. For any phone. Nor do they stock the damned Palm Pre. “It’s been discontinued.” WHAT? Last time I looked, it was still being offered by the mother ship. OK, so I’ll try Verizon. They, too, don’t carry batteries but they did, very happily, try and sell me an Android phone. Thanks, but no. Best Buy? Surely THEY will have one. NOPE. So, where did I find said battery? At a Radio Shack. On clearance.
New problem with the phone is that now, one in five times of closing the phone, it will just shut down. And, of course, it takes five minutes to restart. It makes me want to launch it into orbit.
So, my computer is a quad core HP desktop with 8gb of memory and ample disk storage. This thing should just scream speed. And it did. Until Sunday. Something was updated (one of many updates I decided to let it install, my bad.) Once it restarted, it has been crawling. A quick look at the task list does not show anything unusual. It just hates me.
I pull out the laptop to use while watching a program on television with my son. I notice the battery is down to 65%. After making sure the power adaptor is, in fact, plugged in, I decided that it is indeed HP that hates me and not just the desktop computer.
What really had put this whole argument with technology in the toilet was the Buffalo router. I suppose it is really a blessing in disguise as I finally had a reason to buy a nice router. The way it died, however, was just insidious. It didn’t just stop working. Oh no. No, it just stopped talking to the Internet. Then it stopped talking to the other computers. It still lights up and shows it is connected, but it is a liar. It knows I am watching it. It flirts with me. Winking its lights incessantly. But, I know better. I know it is not REALLY working.
The Buffalo’s replacement is a shiny new D-Link router. It is a nice, shiny black. It has green lights that blink very quickly. Did I say it was shiny? No? It is very shiny. And this one lets me block things, keep nice logs, make one of a hundred different settings changes. It is also very shiny. I am in love with my router. I know it will let me down, they always do. But, I will enjoy our relationship as long as I can.
Tonight, as I pen this, I feel like a character-one of the humans-from a dreadful Steven King novella. You know, that awful one where the trucks come to life. Yeah, that one. My computer will sprout legs and chase me around. I know it will. I’m watching it, though. I’m watching.